Kippers coming back? When they were all the rage in Great Yarmouth

A glut in the catch meant many crans of fresh fish being unsold and are pictured here in 1954, await

A glut in the catch meant many crans of fresh fish being unsold and are pictured here in 1954, awaiting treatment at the herring reduction factory on South Denes. - Credit: Archant

Here we are into October, and it is safe to say that many of the older residents of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston will cast their minds back to those halcyon days when the annual autumn fishery was in full swing here.

Women preparing herring for kippering in a Great Yarmouth smoke-house.

Women preparing herring for kippering in a Great Yarmouth smoke-house. - Credit: Archant

This was the world's major herring port, and when the English and Scottish drifters were in the harbour to land their catches of the so-called silver darlings before returning to the fishing grounds, it was an unforgettable sight to behold, one long gone but never to be forgotten.

Three herring tails were affixed to demi-lions' fronts on our borough's coat-of-arms, a rare honour confirming our status.

Most of the catches were sold as fresh herring but others were exported pickled in barrels, or were acquired by merchants wanting to smoke them into bloaters and kippers.

Sadly, but thankfully only occasionally, big catches created a glut exceeding demand and everybody involved in the fishery was saddened and frustrated when they had to be dumped, or sent to the pioneering but short-lived herring reduction factory - built in 1954 - to convert them into oil, cattle food and fertiliser.

Smoked herring threaded on to speets are placed on racks ready to be packed in 1955.

Smoked herring threaded on to speets are placed on racks ready to be packed in 1955. - Credit: Archant

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But although the Yarmouth bloater became a popular symbol of the borough to the extent that we all took pride in being tagged that way, somehow the kipper seemed more humble and consequently seldom achieved the same measure of adulation and respect.

For the record, bloaters were herring smoked whole whereas the kipper was created by slitting it down its belly so it looked like a butterfly before it was put into the smoke-house.

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However, joy of joy for kipper fanciers: apparently, their favourite fish is back in fashion!

Not only that, but the national Daily Telegraph recently devoted an editorial leading article to it, pointing out that kippers ("a staple of Edwardian households") provide nutritional benefits and cheap meals, prompting a current revival among health-conscious Britons.

To counter-balance the kipper's benefits, the column also underlined a down-side - the smell produced when cooking them permeating the house for days!

All this prompted readers' letters in the newspaper's correspondence columns.

One correspondent wrote that although cooking kippers in his kitchen was banned, a microwave in his garage eliminated that.

And a lifelong kipper fancier advised that immersion in boiling water prevented most of the air pollution.

A third wondered why "plain herring" - once a delicious and healthy cheap meal - seemed to be available on fishmongers' stalls only as kippers nowadays.

Another correspondent reported that his grandfather inserted a whole kipper head-first into a vacuum flask at night, filling it with hot water and screwing the lid back on, thus ensuring he had a ready-made breakfast the next morning.

That revelation takes some beating, elevating the good old kipper to a new level.

Local historian and author Colin Tooke detailed the bloater and kipper aspects of our fishery in a chapter in his 2006 book chronicling The Great Yarmouth Herring Industry. "At one time there were more than 60 curing houses in Yarmouth and Gorleston," he wrote.

"Some were very small, in the Rows; others were associated with fish shops or sometimes pubs, such as the Havelock Tavern, the Crystal Palace and the Blackfriars Tavern, all of which had adjoining curing houses."

Included were two relevant advertisements. One was for AG Godbolt, of The Bloater Store in Fiske's Opening in Gorleston, promoting "An original present, from catcher to consumer direct. Send your friends a box of real oak-smoked bloaters or kippers, delivery guaranteed. Curing every day."

Prices were 1s 6d (7½p today) for a small box, half a-crown (12½p), including postage.

As for John Woodger and Sons, herring curers and merchants on South Quay and in Market Row in Yarmouth and at Baker Street in Gorleston, "Our cure now exceed 25 million kippers, the greater part of which are sold in London."

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